How I turned my weakness into my genius (and why you can, too)
Updated: Sep 28, 2019
The Breakdown In The Supermarket
15 years ago, I had a nervous breakdown. It wasn’t because of a major failure, loss or disaster. It was over someone calling me stupid. For making a mistake. In an online game.
As this had such a major impact on me, I reached out to friends and family to help me make sense of these painful emotions.
“Just let it wash over you.”
“It’s just an online game.”
“Why are you being so sensitive?”
And I agreed that they were right. I decided that it was silly and I should let it go.
But I couldn’t.
So why, despite all the good advice and my own rational decision to let it go, I couldn’t? Why did it feel like my whole world was falling apart and my heart was sinking into uncontrollable dread?
The answer came from the most unexpected place:
In a quiet moment of reflection, I realised that what this person said to me, so bluntly and succinctly, sounded familiar. As much as I wanted to reject or deny this, it was something I’d been telling myself all my life. I had been trying to reject that inner voice, constantly telling me I was stupid or unworthy.
The Inner Critic
My inner critic had a lot to say about everything I did, and in amongst the sea of messages about my worth, there it was… the central message, standing tall and proud, scowling at me: “you’re not good enough… unless you’re perfect.”
If you’re anything like me, you may have spent a big portion of your teenage years listening to Alanis Morisette’s song “Perfect” on repeat and bawling your eyes out over how true the lyrics felt to you. That was one moment when I truly felt understood and not alone.
With this realisation, that day, 15 years ago, I declared war on my inner critic. I made it my purpose and firm commitment to destroy this voice that served no purpose other than to make me feel paralysed and unable to function. I decided I will find inner peace even if it’s the last thing I do in this lifetime.
In the years that followed, I went to therapy and coaching, did a lot of self development work, read every self-help book directly or marginally connected to it, and anything I could get my hands on to study this horrible monster, in the search for the perfect poison to permanently and definitively put it in the place where it belonged – so I could laugh in its face and dance on its grave.
My intense study and trial and error made me discover it wasn’t possible to destroy it. Much to my dismay.
But by this point I was introduced to a model that helped make sense of what was going on, called the Parent-Adult-Child model. The creator of this model, a psychologist named Eric Berne, said that we have these three parts within ourselves. He used this model to explain unhealthy dynamics between people, but I was able to apply it with my own inner critical voice. I realised that my inner critic stemmed from messages I received growing up from parents, adults in my life and society in general. The work I did on my past and these negative life scripts enabled me to get temporary relief so I could function normally as an adult. But I still wasn’t cured. I was still certain that something was wrong with me.
I still didn’t have the inner peace I so desperately longed for.
The Health Struggles
A couple of years ago, I went through a very stressful and intense period at work. I was working in a very satisfying, but extremely demanding role, and the extra hours and mental exertion took its toll on my health. My inner critic was pushing me hard to do more and more and more to compensate for my lack of experience, my unreliable health, for my worth to shine and be acknowledged.
My health collapsed.
I don’t even remember what felt worse: being told by the specialist that my newly diagnosed autoimmune diseases meant that my body was attacking itself, or that there was no cure or treatment for them.
This reinforced my conviction that something is fundamentally wrong with me and that I was, still, somehow, broken.
Coincidentally, around the same time as being told that there was no cure for my illnesses, I started receiving information from various sources about holistic medicine. As Western medicine shrugged its shoulders at me and sent me on my way, I figured I had nothing to lose.
The more I was learning about this holistic approach, the more I noticed a pattern in what everyone was saying: physical symptoms have emotional causes. Intuitively I knew this to be true, but pretty much to the same extent that any of us understand psychosomatic symptoms – we’ve all had that migraine after a terrible day at work, or felt sick before that big public presentation.
Learning about the mind-body connection, enabled me to understand that what was actually happening was not an indicator that I was flawed or broken and somehow needed fixing, but that over the years I’ve suppressed so many unresolved emotions, that I really needed to look at. My body had no other choice but to signal that I need to look at those emotions, in the best way it was able to communicate with me: through physical symptoms.
This made me reflect on our nature which, as broken as it might sometimes appear on the surface, is perfect. It is beautifully (and often horribly painfully) orchestrated in a way to point our attention to what’s truly important. My ongoing emotional work and unpacking the suppressed emotions has helped me reduce my symptoms to almost none, reducing the back pain I suffered with all my life, as well as symptoms of sciatica and chronic fatigue. I completely replaced the 2 boxes of painkillers per month for meditation and mindfulness.
This made me wonder: what if just like my physical symptoms, my inner critic – as painful as it was – was in fact my mind’s perfectly orchestrated way of grabbing my attention? What if I misunderstood it to be a malfunctioning part of me that needed to be destroyed?
What if, in fact, it was trying to make me focus on something else?
I went back on all my years of therapy and work I’d done on myself, looking back at the Parent-Adult-Child model and thought: if my inner critic stemmed from parental and grown-up voices in my life as a child, who was it actually talking to?
And then it hit me: it was my inner child. Of course. This answer had been staring me in the face all these years, trying to grab my attention. And in my determined (and futile) work to destroy my inner critic, I missed the point that it was trying to make all these years. My inner critic wasn’t there to destroy me. It was there to make me aware of my inner child.
Like a flashlight in the dark, all these years I’d been turning the painfully blinding light towards my eyes and then telling it to go away. But in fact, the inner critic was trying to shed light onto my inner child, that fragile, vulnerable part of me that so desperately needed my attention.
This is what enabled me to let go of the tension and control I was trying to put on my inner critic.
The moment I let go of the judgement against it, and focused on what it was trying to tell me all these years, was the moment I was able to truly connect with that child part of myself that needed my love and attention.
Truly understanding these parts within myself has enabled me to focus on what was important. Not through using loads of my energy to control and destroy it, like I’d originally thought. But by focusing on what it was trying to show me: that my inner child needed love, security and attention.
And this is how I found my long-searched for inner peace.
In my 15 year battle with my inner critic, I came across many other people who were on a similar journey. People who were smart, competent and sensitive, and fighting their own battle against their own self-criticism. And then I thought: if all the energy we spend trying to control, destroy, silence or suppress our inner critic… if instead we could use that energy in any way we desired, in a way that feels productive, empowered and in flow… what could we achieve as a group, as a society? As humanity?
That’s when I decided to quit my “succstressful” corporate job, to dedicate myself to a higher purpose: helping others find inner peace from their own inner critic.
And this is how I turned my weakness into my area of genius.
Not because I am a genius. But precisely because I’m not. I’m just like you. A little sensitive, a bit perfectionist, but with a big heart that wants to make a meaningful difference in this world. And if lil’ old sensitive me could do it, so can you.
I’m Beatrice Zornek and I help sensitive, self-aware people make peace with their inner critic. I know it’s been a tough journey. But you’re not alone. I promise.
If you’d like to start making peace with your own inner critic, grab a copy of my free ebook called “7 tools to coach your inner critic.”